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Risks is the TUC's weekly newsletter for safety reps and others, sponsored by Thompsons Solicitors.



HSE union calls for enforcement resources and action

Maintaining workplace health and safety and controlling any spike in Covid-19 case numbers will be vital to economic recovery and protecting jobs in 2021, safety inspectors’ union Prospect has said. A joint statement by the union’s general secretary, Mike Clancy, and Prospect’s branch in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), noted: “It is not an understatement to say workplace health and safety is now the critical enabler to business and wider economic success. That is the key lesson from 2020.” The statement noticed that since 2010 the budget of the HSE, the UK’s workplace safety regulator, has been cut by over 50 per cent in real terms and there are now more MPs in Westminster than there are front line inspectors at the HSE, adding the “government must provide sustained new investment to put this right.” It said a one-off boost of £14m in 2020 was a “sticking plaster” that “has been spent mainly on external contractors, including to recruit private sector enforcement contractors (in many cases from the payment chasing sector) known as Covid Support Officers. This has led to quantity focussed tick box enforcement which is no replacement for the advice and enforcement that can be done by a skilled, trained inspector.” The statement also calls for the Covid workplace risk ranking to be moved from up from ‘significant’ to ‘serious’, which would “remove the shackles preventing inspectors from using enforcement to bring an activity to an immediate stop where their opinion supports such action.” It adds that the government has failed to “effectively communicate the risks associated with aerosol transmission and the steps that workplaces can take to effectively mitigate” risks to workers, highlighting the need for better workplace ventilation and other protections.
Prospect news release.

Virus death risk 4x higher in women garment workers

Women working in Britain’s garment factories are four times more likely to die from Covid-19 than the average woman worker, according to a new TUC analysis of official data. The analysis of Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released last month reveals that women sewing machinists have the highest Covid-19 fatality rate (64.8 deaths per 100,000) of any female occupation. This rate is higher than for women working in at-risk sectors like caring, leisure and other service occupations (27.3 deaths per 100,000). The TUC said these ‘shocking’ figures are a stark reminder of working conditions in Britain’s garment industry – both during and before the pandemic. Lee Barron, TUC Midlands regional secretary, said: “The appalling working practices in the UK garment industry have been an open secret for years. But no serious action has been taken. That’s why we’re pushing for a new partnership model that puts union access at the heart of the garment sector. A new approach where unions, retailers and factory management work together to ensure that legal minimums are being applied across the industry.” But he added “we also need a change to the law. The government must use its much-delayed employment bill to make firms liable for abuses in their supply chains. No company should be able to wash its hands of responsibility if their subcontractors mistreat staff and deny them their basic rights.”
TUC news release. Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by occupation, England and Wales: deaths registered between 9 March and 28 December 2020, ONS, 25 January 2021. Morning Star.

Schools to open, closed workplaces to stay shut

The UK government’s four-step roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions in England will see schools reopened fully from 8 March but will see other business closures continue and the stay at home order remain in place for now. Announcing the roadmap on 22 February, the prime minister said from 29 March “people will no longer be legally required to stay at home but many lockdown restrictions will remain. People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel wherever possible.” Boris Johnson added: “We will extend the provision of free test kits for workplaces until the end of June and families, small businesses and the self-employed can collect those tests from local testing sites.” In a statement to the House of Commons, the prime minister said a partial reopening of businesses ordered to close may start from 12 April.  Speaking the day after his announcement, the prime minister said he is “very optimistic” Covid restrictions in England can be lifted on 21 June, but warned “nothing can be guaranteed.” He said while “some people will say that we're going to be going too fast, some people will say we're going too slow,” but he thought the balance of the reopening was right. The prime minister said each phase of unlocking restrictions - such as children going back to school - would be “adding to the budget of risk.” This is why time was needed between measures to “observe” the impact, he added. Commenting on the roadmap, UNISON general secretary Christina McAnea said: “A cautious approach is the right way to balance getting the country moving again and limit virus spread. It’s clear restrictions were relaxed too quickly last time and there can be no repeat mistakes.” She added: “By ensuring staff are encouraged to have the vaccine by their employers and paid wages in full if they need to isolate, ministers can drive infection rates down even further.”
10 Downing Street news release and Boris Johnson’s statement and datasets, 22 February 2021. UNISON news release. BMA news release. BBC News Online.

The government is still ‘not following the science’

The prime minister has pressed ahead with a ‘gamble’ on the wider opening of schools and colleges but has ignored the evidence of its own advisers and of high infection rates in school staff, the teaching union NEU has said. The union, citing evidence from SAGE advisory committees from February and January, said Boris Johnson has ignored advice recommending a phased return. NEU points to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report released a day before the prime minister’s announcement which showed that teachers and other education professionals have the fourth highest risk of coronavirus infections. NEU said this contradicts the many reassurances school staff have been given by government that they are not at an elevated risk of infection. Dr Mary Bousted, joint NEU general secretary, said: “Boris Johnson has pressed ahead with this gamble on the wider opening of schools and colleges in one swoop and ignored the advice for a phased return. To mitigate against this and prevent another lockdown it is incumbent now for government to ensure robust safety measures are in place in our schools and colleges. Testing and the wearing of face masks in secondary school and college classrooms is a step forward, but we also need to see the issues of ventilation in classrooms and PPE for staff addressed in these coming weeks.” She added: “The prime minister said the wider opening of schools is a national priority. He needs to treat it as such and do what is necessary to make it work. This will ensure school staff, pupils, families and the wider community are protected, and the R rate is kept down.” 
NEU news release and related news release.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey: characteristics of people testing positive for COVID-19 in England, 22 February 2021.

NASUWT says show us the evidence

Re-opening schools and colleges fully is one thing, but keeping them open and preventing the need for further national restrictions is quite another, the teaching union NASUWT has said. Responding to the announcement by the prime minister that all pupils are to return to schools and colleges from 8 March, NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The government’s failure to demonstrate that it has taken full account of the scientific evidence to support its decision on full reopening risks undermining the confidence of the public and those working in schools and colleges.” He added: “We have long argued for a competent system of test, trace and isolate. However, the decision to provide mass testing for secondary age pupils whilst not doing so for pupils of primary age will not help to win confidence. The government has the means to move immediately to extending testing to primary school pupils and their families and they should commit to doing so as a priority.” The NASUWT leader said the government must “recognise the need for stronger workplace mitigations and control measures which are mandatory and backed up by effective enforcement and inspection. This would play a key role in winning the trust and confidence of many parents and the workforce in schools and colleges. He concluded: “Effective ventilation monitoring and ensuring that classrooms are not overcrowded is vital if schools and colleges are to ensure that they are safe for pupils and staff,” noting: “The NASUWT will be continuing to press the government to demonstrate that plans for reopening of schools and colleges will not compromise the safety of teachers, staff or pupils.”
NASUWT news release. Morning Star.

Schools reopening ‘gamble’ risks Covid spike

The UK government’s decision to fully re-open schools in England on 8 March risks increasing Covid-19 rates and threatens the health of children, all school workers and their families, the union Unite has said. Caren Evans, Unite’s officer with national responsibility for schools, commented: “The government and the prime minister are once again guilty of gambling with the health of the nation. The scientific advice clearly advised a phased return to schools but the prime minister apparently knows better. Once again the UK is guilty of failing to learn from the good practice of other nations including Scotland and Wales which are undertaking a phased return.” She added: “There is currently huge uncertainty about how mass testing will work and how this and mask wearing will actually be enforced. The bottom line is that no worker should be placed in danger. Covid infection rates are still far higher than they were in September when schools first fully re-opened. If safety is compromised school support staff should utilise their legal right and remove themselves from that danger.” Unite said it will be providing updated information to its members to ensure that all risks assessments and safe working practices have been updated before school’s reopen and that they have been fully consulted. The union added it will be reminding its members of their right to remove themselves from the workplace where there is “serious and imminent danger.”
Unite news release.

‘Precious little’ preparation for schools safe return

Schools must fully revise and publish risk assessments ahead of a full return of pupils in England, the union GMB has said. Commenting ahead of the prime minister’s 22 February announcement on its lockdown easing plans, the union said the government must fund additional safety measures for the 8 March return of all pupils. The union said there must be “more safety, more space and less stress” and listed measures that need to be taken in order to ensure school safety. GMB national secretary Rehana Azam said: “We want all our kids in their classrooms and learning but we need a proper credible plan. Let’s face it, the government has done precious little to make schools safer between the start of lockdown and now despite having ample time.” Criticising a lack of consultation with unions on the plans, she added: “School support staff have been in classrooms throughout the pandemic - schools have not been closed – many school workers are telling us that without additional protective measures, more space and proper support a full return won’t work. We need full central government funding for enhanced safety measures, extra PPE in primary, early years and SEND [special educational needs] settings which are now higher risk - and for school workers to be vaccinated as soon as possible. This isn’t just about keeping school workers and our children safe. It’s about keeping the R number down for all of us.” UNISON also called for additional protection for school staff. General secretary Christina McAnea said: “The government should also follow the lead of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by applying that steady approach to schools with a phased reopening rather than going for broke. Along with toughening safety measures, that’s the way to keep staff, pupils and everyone else safe.”
GMB news release. UNISON news release. The Guardian. Morning Star.

Reopening ‘cocktail of dangers’ on bus driver safety

Transport union RMT has issued a new warning over bus driver safety after the government confirmed the mass opening of schools in England on 8 March. RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: “RMT members who have direct experience of the way the return to school was previously so poorly managed by the bus employers as lockdowns were relaxed now have even greater levels of concern. High infection rates, new variants of Covid-19, combined with a mass return to school and poor enforcement of face mask wearing and social distancing, could represent a cocktail of dangers and greater risks for our drivers.” He added: “The latest Office of National Statistics data on the workforce – broken down by occupation – has already shown the greater burden and higher exposure to risk being experienced by bus drivers and our officials have received too many reports of poor crowding [control] and social distancing and a complete lack of any enforcement of Covid rules.” The RMT leader concluded: “We have written to Grant Shapps, secretary of state for transport, demanding his department step in to lead and coordinate a safe method of working for bus workers with the introduction of more robust enforcement, including by the police, of mask wearing and social distancing rules on board buses.”
RMT news release.

Wide concern at reopening of schools in England

Nine education organisations have spelled out their requirements for a wider, safe opening of schools and colleges in England. The statement was issued ahead of the prime minister’s 22 February announcement, which said schools should reopen to all pupils from 8 March. The signatories are the education unions GMB, NASUWT, NEU, UNISON and Unite, as well as the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), National Governance Association (NGA) and the Sixth Form Colleges' Association (SFCA). The statement noted the trailed 8 March reopening date should be followed “only if the scientific evidence is absolutely clear that this is safe, and at that point go no further than a phased return of children and young people with sufficient time to assess the impact before moving to the next phase.” It warned sticking with an 8 March reopening date “would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education, and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.” The statement added: “What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England – close to one fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step. These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time. This is the approach being taken in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It allows public health experts to assess the impact of the first phase before moving to the next.” The statement concluded: “None of this is intended to stand in the way of the full reopening of schools and colleges. On the contrary. It is intended as a prudent way forward to ensure that once they are fully open, they stay open.”
Joint education organisations’ statement, 19 February 2021. BBC News Online.

Non-essential stores need a safe reopening

Retail trade union Usdaw is calling on customers to follow the rules and respect shopworkers, as non-essential stores in England are set to reopen on 12 April. The union is also urging the UK government, which announced the retail plan as part of its lockdown easing roadmap, to ensure shopworkers are high on the priority list for vaccination. Usdaw general secretary Paddy Lillis said: “The reopening of non-essential stores offers a lifeline for many retailers. That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there. It is essential that the tests set out by the government before reopening are followed, so that shops only reopen when the data suggests that it will be safe.” He added: “When they do reopen, we expect employers to maintain necessary safety measures, including 2 metre distancing, and call on customers to follow the rules and respect staff. Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled. It should never be just a part of the job and shopworkers must be respected.” The union leader said: “Retail staff are working with the public every day and are not only facing increased abuse, but also a higher chance of catching Covid-19. That needs to be taken into account when deciding priority lists for vaccines.”
Usdaw news release.

PM should have announced support for workers

Boris Johnson’s announcement on measures to ease the lockdown should have been accompanied by a commitment to provide the ongoing support needed to help workers affected by the pandemic. Responding to the UK prime minister’s 22 February statement in the House of Commons, STUC general secretary Roz Foyer said: “The prime minister was clearly desperate to announce some good news today. He may have indicated an outline plan for emerging from lockdown but there are many uncertainties along the way.” She added: “It is essential that we continue to approach every step cautiously, particularly with the risks of new variants and the fear that employers will relax their health and safety regimes.” The STUC leader concluded: “Last year we saw announcements on business support and extensions to furlough trailing behind easing of lockdown announcements. There was nothing preventing the prime minister making those announcements today. It is certainly vital in his budget next week, the chancellor announces long-term furlough support, increases to sick pay and investment in job creation.”
STUC news release.

Self-isolation payment scheme is a dangerous flop

The self-isolation payment scheme was meant to solve the problem of workers being unable to self-isolate, but the TUC has warned a combination of strict criteria and low funding means that 7-in-10 applicants to the scheme are rejected. TUC policy officer Alex Collinson said it was clear that the scheme is one of the key failures in the government’s response to the pandemic. He said many sick or self-isolating workers had to rely on statutory sick pay (SSP) or other benefits to survive when off work, but SSP coverage is patchy, payments are low and 2 million workers don’t even quality for the £95.85 a week benefit. Writing in a TUC blog, Collison said: “In early January, we sent freedom of information requests to each of the 314 English councils administering the scheme to find out how it was going as of 6 January 2021. We heard back from 233 (74 per cent) councils. The responses painted a clear picture of a failed scheme.” He added: “Across these 233 councils, only 30 per cent of applications had resulted in a payment. 152 councils provided a breakdown of applications by main and discretionary schemes. For the main scheme, the success rate was 37 per cent. For the discretionary scheme, just 1 in 5 applications had been successful.” He concluded: “Rather than do what’s needed and increase and expand SSP last March, the government introduced a late, inadequate and under-funded short-term fix to our sick pay problem. It must now act urgently to resolve this by increasing weekly SSP to the equivalent of a real living wage and making it available to all.” The UK has the least generous mandatory paid sick leave of any OECD country.
TUC blog.

Daventry bin workers forced to isolate without sick pay

A contractor for Daventry District Council is sending workers who test positive for Covid-19 home without company sick pay. This leaves self-isolating Daventry Norse workers on statutory sick pay (SSP) of less than £100 a week, their union GMB has said. The workers are required to take regular lateral flow tests for Covid-19. David Warwick, GMB regional organiser, said: “You can’t punish frontline workers for catching Covid-19 when they’re carrying out essential work to prevent the spread of disease. It’s sickening for Daventry Norse to play games with the lives of working families just to turn a profit.” He added: “If every other major waste contractor can provide sick pay, so can Daventry Norse.” The company is using lateral flow tests to identify infected workers and has said anyone who refuses them will be suspended from work. GMB says the bin workers employed by Daventry Norse earn as little as £8.89 an hour, barely above the minimum wage, for their essential work.
GMB news release.

Health workers warn of airborne transmission risk

UK guidance on personal protective equipment is “inadequate” and continues to put healthcare workers’ lives at risk from airborne transmission of Covid-19, health and union organisations have warned. Echoing long-time warnings from unions, the coalition of more than 20 organisations has written to Boris Johnson calling for the rules to be reviewed. In the letter to the prime minister, the organisations stated measures to reduce airborne spread of coronavirus in high-risk health and care settings – which they described as “mission-critical to the pandemic response” – were “inadequate”. They said: “The evidence is clear and lives continue to be put at risk.” The coalition includes the unions GMB, BDA, HCSA, RSM and CSP and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), British Medical Association and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Writing to the prime minister, they said the current infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance, which determines the selection and use of PPE across the UK, “does not accurately depict the airborne risks when sharing health and care settings including working in patients’ homes and public buildings”. They added that current policies “continue to emphasise the importance of fomite, droplet and direct spread but do not properly address airborne transmission”. The organisations are calling for a rapid change in approach amid the risk of new variants, setting out five priorities, including changing the IPC guidance “to reflect and increase the level of respiratory protection as a precautionary principle for all health and care workers” looking after people with, or suspected to have, Covid-19. Improved ventilation quality in all health and care settings and updated guidance reflecting the evidence on airborne transmission, taking into account a “truly multidisciplinary range of experts”, is also needed, the letter states.
RCN news release. Joint letter, 18 February 2021.  The Guardian. BBC News Online. The Independent.

Virus-hit NHS workers face poor mental health

The prime minister must produce an NHS worker recovery plan, the union GMB has said, after its poll revealed the majority of the staff who contract Covid have since experienced poor mental health. The survey of more than 3,000 health workers in roles across the NHS, revealed 60 per cent of those who had contracted the virus said that the experience had either some negative impact or a severe negative impact on their mental health. In total, 30 per cent of those surveyed said they had caught the coronavirus with almost 60 per cent of these saying they passed it to a family member. Workers described experiencing seizures, shock, emotional damage and a lack of mental health support. Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said: “Our NHS members are telling us about the terrible toll of working flat out on the frontline during this pandemic and the severe impacts catching Covid has on their mental health. These are the people who have been saving lives throughout the pandemic. Now they need ministers to look after them.”
GMB news release.

MPs call for ‘long Covid’ compensation for key workers

Boris Johnson is facing fresh calls to compensate key workers suffering from ‘long Covid’. A total of 65 MPs and peers have signed a letter to the prime minister, asking for the condition to be recognised formally as an occupational disease. Layla Moran, who chairs an all party group of MPs looking into coronavirus, said the government should not abandon “the true heroes of the pandemic.” Long Covid presents as a range of different symptoms suffered by people weeks or months after being infected with the virus - some of whom weren't seriously ill when they had it. The letter to Mr Johnson, organised by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus - led by Ms Moran - says approximately 390,000 people will have long Covid in the UK. The cross-party group of MPs - backed by the British Medical Association and members of the House of Lords - wants the government to follow the example of countries including Spain, France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark, which formally recognise Covid as an occupational disease. By defining it in this way, employees and their dependants would be entitled to protection and compensation if they contract the virus while working. Ms Moran said long Covid was “the hidden health crisis of the pandemic.” BMA’s Dr Chaand Nagpaul said: “While the government and employers must increase efforts to protect staff now and stop them contracting Covid-19 in the first place, for some it is already too late. So it is only right that ministers urgently provide a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff and their families who are now living with the devastating after-effects of Covid-19.”
APPG on Coronavirus. March for Change website. BMA news release. BBC News Online and related story. Yorkshire Post.
Sign the March for Change petition for recognition of Long Covid as an occupational disease.

Call for suspension of on-train ticketing

The government must suspend immediately all fare collection and ticket inspection, the rail union RMT has said, after a survey of its on-board staff indicated 7 out of 17 train operating companies (TOCs) are putting their staff at risk. The survey findings indicate that while 10 TOC’s operating under national contracts, including those managed by the Welsh and Scottish governments, have suspended on-train revenue protection and ticket inspection during the current lockdown, seven, which are managed by the UK Department for Transport (DfT), are still putting staff at increased risk of coming into contact with Covid-19 by requiring them to undertake on-train revenue protection or ticket inspection duties, even though the union says social distancing cannot be maintained. During the first UK lockdown in 2020, all on-train revenue protection and ticket inspection was suspended as a safety measure. The seven TOCs currently requiring staff to undertake on-train revenue protection or ticket inspection duties are: CrossCountry; LNER; Northern; GWR; SWR; Avanti West Coast; and C2C. The RMT survey found fewer than 2 in 10 of those responding are satisfied with the arrangements their employer has put in place to protect them from Covid-19 risks at work. Nearly 8 in 10 respondents said they would be prepared to invoke the ‘worksafe’ right to refuse procedure if they had Covid-19 safety concerns whilst undertaking on-train revenue protection or ticket inspection duties. RMT general secretary Mick Cash commented: “Under no circumstances will RMT allow its members to be put at unnecessary risk of coming into contact with Covid-19 at work.”
RMT news release.


Historic workers' rights win for Uber drivers

GMB has scored an ‘historic’ win at the Supreme Court in a worker’s rights case against car hailing platform Uber. The country’s highest court ruled in GMB's favour, determining that Uber drivers are not self-employed, but are workers entitled to workers’ rights including holiday pay, a guaranteed minimum wage and an entitlement to breaks. In his judgment, Lord Leggatt wrote: “The employment tribunal was, in my view, entitled to conclude that, by logging onto the Uber app in London, a claimant driver came within the definition of a ‘worker’ by entering into a contract with Uber London whereby he undertook to perform driving services for Uber London.” The 19 February ruling is the culmination of a four-year legal battle by GMB, which will now consult with Uber driver members over their forthcoming compensation claims at the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Lawyers Leigh Day, fighting the case on behalf of GMB, said tens of thousands of Uber drivers could be entitled to an average of £12,000 each in compensation. Mick Rix, GMB national officer, said: “This has been a gruelling four-year legal battle for our members – but it’s ended in a historic win. The Supreme Court has upheld the decision of three previous courts, backing up what GMB has said all along; Uber drivers are workers and entitled to breaks, holiday pay and minimum wage.” He added: “Uber must now stop wasting time and money pursuing lost legal causes and do what’s right by the drivers who prop up its empire.”
Supreme Court press summary and full decision. GMB news release. Leigh Day news release. BBC News Online.

Unions welcome Uber ruling and call for action

Unions have welcomed the Supreme Court ruling against Uber on the employment status of its drivers and called for government action to improve employment rights across the economy. TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “No company is above the law. Uber must play by the rules and stop denying its drivers basic rights at work. This ruling is an important win for gig economy workers and for common decency. Sham self-employment exploits people and lets companies dodge paying their fair share of tax.” The TUC leader added: “Unions will continue to expose nasty schemes that try and cheat workers out of the minimum wage and holiday pay. But we also need the government to step up to the plate. Ministers must use the much-delayed employment bill to reform the law around worker status. Everyone should qualify for employment rights unless an employer can prove they are genuinely self-employed.” Roz Foyer, general secretary of Scotland’s national union federation STUC, commented: “I have no doubt that as we speak, app giants will be formulating plans to have legislation changed as they did in California last year. This is a vital time for unions to organise and elected representatives to act to ensure that the protections in law which have finally won out in this case are strengthened rather than weakened in the future.” In the wake of the ruling, transport unions’ federation ITF, which representing 20 million transport workers worldwide, called on Uber to abandon its predatory business model globally.
STUC news release. ITF news release. The Guardian. Morning Star.

High Court urged to overturn PM's Patel decision

The High Court must overturn Boris Johnson's decision that home secretary Priti Patel did not breach government rules on behaviour, a civil service union has said. The prime minister decided not to sack Ms Patel last year despite a report finding evidence of “bullying” and “some occasions of shouting and swearing” (Risks 978). The prime minister backed Ms Patel, saying she had not broken the Ministerial Code. The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said the prime minister’s response had “undermined” disciplinary procedures. A report last November by Sir Alex Allan, the prime minister's adviser on standards, said Ms Patel had “unintentionally” breached the Ministerial Code, governing conduct. Sir Alex said: “The evidence is that this has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing. This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.” He resigned after Mr Johnson supported the home secretary, saying she retained his “full confidence.” The FDA is seeking a judicial review of the prime minister's decision. In a written submission, general secretary Dave Penman told the High Court that “civil servants should expect to work with ministers without fear of being bullied or harassed.” Mr Johnson's actions had “fundamentally undermined” the disciplinary process, he added, and the prime minister had “misinterpreted” the definition of bullying in the Ministerial Code, he noted.  Mr Penman said there was “bewilderment, dismay and anger among our membership,” adding that, if Mr Johnson's decision was not “corrected” by the court, “his interpretation of the Ministerial Code will result in that document failing to protect workplace standards across government.”
FDA report. BBC News Online.


Australia: Vaccine alone won’t protect workers

The Covid-19 vaccine does not remove the need to maintain other important workplace safety measures, Australia’s national union federation has warned. Welcoming the start of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, ACTU said this was however just the start of the process.  “The vaccine rollout will not happen overnight, and it is essential that all workers - especially those in high-risk industries - continue to be kept safe in their workplaces by the social distancing and other procedures which have saved so many lives over the last year,” ACTU assistant secretary Liam O’Brien said. “The ACTU will continue to fight to ensure workers in high risk workplaces get access to the vaccines as soon as possible.” He added: “Whether it be for workers like those in our supermarkets and schools and who operate our public transport service, these essential workers must be protected. These are the workers who, in the event of community transmission, are on the front line of exposure to this virus and deserve protection alongside those working in healthcare, hotel quarantine, aged and disability care. The ACTU supports the existing processes for determining when vaccines are mandatory for certain workplaces. These decisions should continue to be made by public health experts and supported by Public Health Orders and not by individual employers.”
ACTU news release. Safe Work Australia (SWA) interim guidance on the Covid-19 vaccines.  

Qatar: Thousands of migrant construction workers die

More than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have died in Qatar since it won the right to host the World Cup 10 years ago, an investigation by the Guardian has found. Using information compiled from official sources, it estimates an average of 12 migrant workers from five south Asian nations have died each week since December 2010. Government data from India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka revealed there were 5,927 deaths of migrant workers in the period 2011–2020. Separately, data from Pakistan’s embassy in Qatar reported a further 824 deaths of Pakistani workers, between 2010 and 2020. The total death toll is significantly higher, as these figures do not include deaths from a number of countries that send large numbers of workers to Qatar, including the Philippines and Kenya. Deaths that occurred in the final months of 2020 are also not included. The Guardian says the findings expose Qatar’s failure to protect its 2 million-strong migrant workforce, or even investigate the causes of the apparently high rate of death among the largely young workers. Based on the data obtained by the paper, 69 per cent of deaths among Indian, Nepali and Bangladeshi workers are categorised as ‘natural’. Among Indians alone, the figure is 80 per cent. These classifications, which are usually made without an autopsy, often fail to provide a legitimate medical explanation for the underlying cause of death. Qatar continues to “drag its feet on this critical and urgent issue in apparent disregard for workers’ lives,” said Hiba Zayadin, Gulf researcher for Human Rights Watch. “We have called on Qatar to amend its law on autopsies to require forensic investigations into all sudden or unexplained deaths, and pass legislation to require that all death certificates include reference to a medically meaningful cause of death,” she said.
The Guardian.

USA: Amazon sued for failed to protect workers

New York is suing Amazon, with a court filing accusing the world’s largest retailer of a ‘flagrant disregard’ for safety and labour laws at two warehouses in the state as Covid-19 infections surged nationwide. The suit from Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, came days after Amazon pre-emptively sued to block the suit over its coronavirus safety protocols and the firing of one of its employees who objected to working conditions. “While Amazon and its CEO made billions during this crisis, hardworking employees were forced to endure unsafe conditions and were retaliated against for rightfully voicing these concerns,” said James. “Since the pandemic began, it is clear that Amazon has valued profit over people and has failed to ensure the health and safety of its workers.” The suit filed on 17 February says “Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health.” It adds the company retaliated illegally against employees who raised alarms. An investigation by the attorney general’s office found evidence showing that Amazon’s health and safety response violated state law with respect to cleaning and disinfection protocols, contact tracing and allowing employees to take precautions to protect themselves from the risk of infection.
NY Attorney General news release and filing. BBC News Online. The Guardian. NBC News.

USA: Scientists call on CDC to act on airborne virus risks

Nearly a year after scientists showed that the coronavirus could linger in workplace air, more than a dozen top experts have called on the Biden administration to take immediate action to limit airborne transmission of the virus. The 13 experts — including several who advised President Biden during the transition — urged the administration to mandate a combination of respirators and environmental measures, like better ventilation, to blunt the risks in workplaces. “It’s time to stop pussyfooting around the fact that the virus is transmitted mostly through the air,” said Linsey Marr, an expert on aerosols at Virginia Tech. “If we properly acknowledge this, and get the right recommendations and guidance into place, this is our chance to end the pandemic in the next six months.” She warned: “If we don’t do this, it could very well drag on.” The federal safety regulator, OSHA, will only mandate standards that are supported by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University and one of the signatories. Michaels led OSHA during the Obama administration. “Until the CDC makes some changes, OSHA will have difficulty changing the recommendations it puts up because there’s an understanding the government has to be consistent,” Dr Michaels said. “And CDC has always been seen as the lead agency for infectious disease.” Dr Marr was one of the experts who wrote to the World Health Organisation (WHO) last summer to push for an acknowledgment of airborne transmission. She did not expect to be in a similar position again so many months later, she said, adding: “It feels like Groundhog Day.” The expert call has been welcomed by the US national union federation, AFL-CIO.
George Washington University news release and 17 February 2021 experts’ letter. AFL-CIO news release. New York Times.
Petition urging CDC to recognise Covid-19 airborne risk.


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